updated 05:55 pm EST, Sun December 19, 2010
Proposal charges varying rates for sites on phones
A joint proposal from contractors Allot Communications and Openet could lead to charging by the online service and a potentially severe violation of net neutrality principles on cellphones and tablets. The newly developed system would let carriers charge different rates depending on the nature of traffic while exempting their own services. Carriers could also throttle or fence off services such as Facebook or YouTube to discourage using them too often.
For videos, the proposal would make video delivery more expensive using outside video services by charging the content provider through "split billing." Content providers would pay their usual bandwidth costs to the Internet provider if a customer trials a movie but declines to see the rest, but the cellular provider would still get a cut of the purchase price if viewers elect to watch the full video.
The approach would effectively let carriers force a reversion to a pre-smartphone model for mobile data, where access to the wider Internet is discouraged while carrier-owned web and media services artificially become the least expensive choices. Net neutrality violations would also come by letting carriers make it difficult or impractical to use services that threaten their established businesses, such as charging a premium for Hulu or iTunes to steer users back to any landline TV services they might have.
As a proposal, the implementation so far isn't known to have been accepted by any carrier and may not take effect. Allot and Openet haven't offered comment.
The concepts nonetheless reflect an increasing desire from carriers to end net neutrality and widen profit margins. France Telecom's CEO has called for site-specific fees not just for the Internet but even to charge phone manufacturers like Apple based on the amount of data a given person uses on a provider such as Orange. US telecoms companies as a whole have been adamant to exempt themselves from having to treat different sites equally. Verizon made a pact with Google to press for very light regulation on cellular that many believe had the concept of site-specific metering in mind.
The FCC is due to vote on net neutrality rules on Tuesday that would impose tougher conditions on wired access but which may satisfy cellular carriers by making no mention of anti-favoritism rules for wireless services. However, agency chairman Julius Genachowski said in explaining the rules that the FCC reserved the right to step in and apply more restrictions if it became clear carriers were abusing the lack of regulations. [via Wired]